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The Subprimes, by Karl Taro Greenfield - Elf M. Sternberg
The Subprimes, by Karl Taro Greenfield
tl;dr: This story depicts a world three elections from now, when the elites have finally bought everything and the world is going to hell. While its skewerings of capitalist excesses and liberal paranoias are both spot-on, the solution it offers is beyond anyone's means. Even the characters in the novel aren't sure what happened, or why. ★★★☆☆

The Subprimes is a book in the classic SFnal genre "If this goes on..." Set somewhere around 2030, the book describes life after the second great real estate bubble, when almost everyone who wasn't in the top 1%, or wasn't amusing and entertaining to them, was suddenly and irrevocably dispossessed of their homes. Some states, such as California, become so dysfunctional their neighboring states set up roadblocks and checkpoints, and to cross you need to pass a credit check. The wealthy have bought Congress and dismantled any and all "socialist" policies: the only police are the ones the wealthy can afford, the only roads the ones corporations need to get goods from one place to another, the only schools are sponsored by fast food companies and don't teach anything at all. The Subprimes are homeless people who once had middleclass jobs.

The story goes a bit off the rails in its final act, as a grand guginol scene of the people of a small town face off both an army of low-trained hired guns and a robotic fracking machine that brings those gigantic sea-going oil-extraction rigs onto land in a nightmare of steel, diesel smoke, and pepper spray. It asks too much of the reader, has too many points violating one's suspension of disbelief, and in the end tells the sad story that the only way "If this goes on..." will be disrupted probably requires divine intervention.

This book does have it all: the 1% are building "sanctuaries" in distant mountain retreats and water-rich obscure Pacific islands, defensive manses to wait out the coming megadeaths wrought by global warming, drought, and starvation. The villainous Pepper Sisters (the Koch Brothers), remind the governor of New Mexico that if he doesn't support them in their effort to evict the town, there are plenty of other candidates they can put their money behind in the next election. Pastor Roger is a Franklin Graham knock-off, a man convinced of American exceptionalism, the power of money, and that God always wants exactly what he wants.

The security state comes in for a beating: solar power is banned: upgrading the grid to support it *and* secure it against terrorist attacks was too expensive, and the corporations knew which one they'd rather pay their senators to vote for. Open public WiFi is banned: you must sign in with a credit card or a confirmed account so the government knows you're not a terrorist. Electric cars are banned: the existing lifecycling recycling was "deemed" too expensive too upgrade for lithium batteries and carbon fibers, mostly by the existing lifecycle recyclers.

Liberal paranoias get their fair share of skewering: the hero is on notice with child protective services because he went outside to join a soccer game with his son and bumped another kid in the process, marking him as a "potential sexual predator." His twelve-year-old son gets the same label because he pinched a girl's bottom at his middle school.

Overall, though, this book is an "If this goes on..." in the counter-capitalist tradition. Workers have almost no relation to the means of production. The vast majority of employed people depicted in the book are guard labor, those among the desperate impoverished whom the wealthy hire to make sure the even more desperate impoverished aren't "cheating" somehow. Ultimately, this system will collapse in fire and pain, and maybe we'll learn our lesson from the disaster. What Das Kapital and The Abolition of Work both missed was the sheer scale of environmental disaster industrialism would wreak, but The Subprimes brings it front and center.

I do recommend this book, if only to give the reader a good idea of what we're all up against, with "liberty-loving oil extractors" at one end, and "free-speech zones" at the other.

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ungulata From: ungulata Date: June 17th, 2015 09:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
This seems problematic from the get go. Funding for infrastructure such as roads, police/military and vaccination programs is largely uncontested by big money because it would cost the rich too much to pay for something they can get taxpayers to provide for them for free. In the same vein, some degree of tax-payer paid schooling cuts down training costs for new hires.

If all the tax-payers become penniless and no longer pay taxes or buy goods, life is going to get complicated for the rich. I think the selection of goods would drop sharply and the prices rise until 'rich' would begin to look more like 'middle class'.

I've heard that North Korea is the "best" model we have of a state run by gangsters.
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